Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What are we afraid of?

I went to morning services at my temple this morning. I went because someone in the community had a yartzeit - the anniversary of a death of a loved one - and the laws of Judaism require a minyon, a quorum of 10 participants in order to recite the memorial prayer.

So I went, more in service to the community than for my own beliefs, which are conflicted and complicated.

But that's not why I'm writing today.

I'm writing to sort though my emotions and thoughts about the conversation the group had after the service, over coffee. We were talking about the incarcerated children, about immigration, and I was disappointed and upset by the opinions of my fellow congregants. And this is a community that prides itself on its commitment to social justice and social action.

Ultimately, the consensus was, sure, babies and children in detention centers is sad, but what else are we going to do? Several times, my view was challenged with this question: So would you rather have open borders?

Behind that question (and I'm sure the querant looked at it as a rhetorical one), I see fear. Fear of the other. Fear of change. Fear of loss. Fear, couched in the language of law and order and reason and fairness. And hours after the conversation, I sit here wondering what would happen if we stopped trying to logically justify our emotions and were truly honest about what we felt.

Instead of calling humans illegal, would would it be like if we could admit:

  • I'm afraid of people who don't look like me
  • I'm afraid of people who don't act like me
  • I'm afraid of people who don't worship like me
Sitting in a room with a handful of people, most of whom were working hard to make me wrong and them right, many who were clearly ready to dismiss my passion as naivety, it was hard to muster any kind of answer that they could hear.

When I got home, I started to understand that using logic and reason only made it easier for them to hold to their arguments. That for every fact I checked, they would throw two more for me to counter - a hydra of data. It was a powerful defense mechanism, a way to wall away uncomfortable emotion.

As a woman, I'm far too familiar with being told not to be emotional. To being called hysterical. To being dismissed for leaning on my feelings. But to be human is to be a bundle of emotional reactions. We feel first; rationalize after. We know this. It is neuroscience, not opinion. 

I know now how I will respond to the kinds of questions posed to me today after services. I don't know what kind of answers I will receive, nor if it will change the conversation, but I will ask it anyway. And keep asking.

What are you afraid of?




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